Gout, ask anyone who’s had it they’ll all tell you it’s not funny. This time of year is a full-on trigger alert festival of everything that’s bad for it. High protein, offal, shellfish, booze, dark green veg, all the warning signals for an apocalyptic flareup. It’s why I like to call it Goutmas! But it’s such a great time for feasting, really the only time of year in this country that everyone can be a glutton for a week.
If you’re serious about your gluttony like me you would have started preparations early and ordered your big bird/beef/ham/alloftheabove in November. Every year I cook for my wife’s extended family, this year we were 12 and turkey was off the menu again as I can’t stand the stuff! Really if I’m cooking a feast then I’m going to choose meat that’s rich and delicious, turkey fails on both counts. So I rolled the meat die twice and it came up goose-beef, a good combo because people expect a big bird of some kind for xmas dinner. Now usually there are more of us and a three bird roast from Seldom Seen Farm has always done the trick but with a big beef joint planned for the table too it seemed a bit excessive. Luckily Goodmans Geese are nearby and really are rather special. I can’t think of a better bird to eat, it’s all juicy dark meat and crispy skin for goodness sake, perfect! It’s time to put the last nail in the turkey coffin and ship them all back to America, preferably laden with cranberry sauce.
I’d been thinking about cooking a big beef rib joint for goutmas dinner since October, you need to really because a decent joint has to be dry aged for at least 5 weeks. In early November I met my butcher Phil at Berkswell Traditional Farmstead Meats and luckily managed to put my name on two locally reared Dexter forerib joints. Very lucky because the past couple of years have seen this type of cattle go south to high-end butchers like Turner and George in the capital. I fear for Phil and his business, he’s drawing his state pension now but carries on because he has a real passion for supporting rear-breed meat even though business is obviously slow. It’s a shame that Midlands ‘foodies’ talk a good game but when it comes to buying and supporting local producers such talk is useless in preserving local gems like this. Nonetheless I’ll carry on buying the best local beef and pork here for as long as I can. If you’re near the airport and care to support Phil then get in touch, I’ll take you down and introduce you.
Goose, check. Beef, check. Salmon next. My wife’s family are like those grizzly bears you see on nature documentaries standing upstream at salmon mating season. They can literally gorge themselves to a stupor on salmon, in particular smoked salmon. I like smoking my own small salmon (around 2.5kg), the smaller size is less fatty compared to the massive commercial stuff. Even if they’ve seen the inside of an actual smokehouse, commercial smoked salmon has a wet greasy texture. Good smoked salmon should be silky smooth and not at all greasy. I smoke mine early in December, vac pack and freeze them for a couple of weeks to improve the smoke flavour and texture. Knowing that up to four sides of salmon can be consumed on goutmas day, making your own superior smoked salmon is a no-brainer.
But before Goutmas comes Goutmas eve where I cook for my mum. Being a Buddhist she’s never really celebrated xmas but I like to cook her something nice on xmas eve. This year after contemplating a full on Italian American style Feast of the Seven Fishes I finally settled on Cantonese lobster noodles and steamed lemon sole with shiitake and Chinese bacon. Best to keep it something my mum would be guaranteed to enjoy! Thanks to Lawrence and John at WS Scott in the wholesale fish market who have been supplying me with great produce for my seafood classes in 2014.
I really enjoy cooking a big roast dinner on Xmas day. Everybody thinks you’ve been slaving away all day but it’s quite straightforward, as long as I follow these three rules:
1. Cook by temperature not time.
With a big beef joint, almost 13kg this year, you can basically ignore all advice about roasting at 200C for x mins then turning down to 160C for x hours per pound. It’s all nonsense. Get a digital meat probe, set your oven to the lowest setting and wait for the inside to come up to 55C for perfect medium rare every time. Foil it good and you can rest it for up to 2 hours before searing the outside, slicing and serving. Goose is the same as beef, both are delicious at room temperature. If you need to heat it up just see step 3.
2. Dinner’s ready when the roasties are done
The resting time is important. This is time to finish cooking the sides. Most importantly are the roast potatoes. Of course you’d have parboiled these earlier in salty water and have left them to cool in a single layer. You see when you do this that their surfaces as they cool become cracked and fluffy. The cracks soak up the hot fat, become crispy on the outside and fluffy inside. The perfect roast potatoes! Do not underestimate how long a big batch of roasties take to cook. 4kg of parboiled spuds can take up to 2 hours to roast to golden perfection. Separate into smaller batches if you’re in a rush. If it’s taking too long feed your family some more smoked salmon.
3. Keep the gravy hot
You’d have made the gravy already. Don’t think about making it on the day, it’ll be crap anyway because you won’t have time or space to reduce a whole bottle of red wine. Take your time making a good reduction, do it beforehand. Just heat it up before you serve dinner.
A little subset of goutmas is cheesemas. With help from crazy don’t-call-me-french Nico of Curds & Whey we had a cheeseboard that included an amazing 3 year old Marcel Petit comté, truffled brie, manchego and forme d’ambert. Cheers Nico, for a non-cheese eating Chinese family, they were all very impressed with the comté! Though it may have something to do with telling them the price.
But goutmas doesn’t end there with us, because on boxing day we all go over to our big uncle’s place and contrive to devour a whole roast piglet over the course of the day. It starts just after noon, when the piglet’s picked up from the specialist Cantonese roast meat restaurant Peach Garden. There’s usually a couple of roast ducks thrown in too and we all love Singapore noodles and beef ho fun. We eat all this until all the crispy skin has gone and were down to meat and bone.
The family sit around chatting, boozing and watching movies until the evening meal. We can barely move but we manage scoff a huge Malaysian style chicken curry that’s been bought in and I muster up the energy to cook prawns in black pepper sauce, lobster tails and some veg. To round everything off and because it easier to digest the leftover piglet was made into congee. Let’s not be in any doubt that Chinese people know how to feast properly.
So you see why I call the festive period Goutmas. How did I fare this year? Not a twinge, all clear! Maybe I should have tried harder.